You may not have noticed, but we have a problem in America. It might be more appropriately termed as an ‘obsession’.
We Are Obsessed With Food.
And not necessarily in a good way. Did you know that eating disorders are one of the top diagnoses in pediatric practice? Say What?!? I didn’t either!
I learned this from a FREE series I’ve signed up to attend called ‘Raising Confident and Comfortable Eaters’. It’s put on by Kaleideum Downtown and Imprints for Families and features Debra Benfield, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Owner of Body in Mind Nutrition. What a blessing to our community that it is offered at no charge… and childcare is included!
I cannot emphasize how important this topic is. Not just for parents, either. This is important for us as a society. Think about anyone involved with schools, restaurants, grocery stores, churches, buying food, making food, and eating food! Food is everywhere. Clearly, eating is confusing and it doesn’t have to be.
It shouldn’t be.
I actually find that this topic ties in closely with my practice at Cancer Services. Many of our clients facing cancer, and their caregivers, are also facing a lot of anxiety about food. They hear that this or that causes cancer, or that they should only eat organic, or not eat any GMO foods, or that gluten is the problem, or inflammatory foods, they wonder if they should not eat meat, or avoid sugar, or become a vegan.
It becomes so overwhelming to get advice from well intentioned people that by the time they come to my office, they have a serious problem with food. They are SCARED TO DEATH TO EAT! This does not help their quality of life. It’s time we had a discussion about the real purpose of food and how focus on a health promoting diet in a way that does not cause anxiety or disordered eating.
Take home points I learned from the first session:
- Early feeding experiences can shape risk for disordered eating.
- We are all born with a pristine and accurate appetite system that is attuned to our bodies needs.
- From birth we communicate our hunger and fullness needs. We are born with everything we need to know when and how much to eat. For whatever reason, we begin to not trust that.
- Parents are inundated with guidelines, rules, words of advice from well intentioned individuals. The child gets lost in all the rules and anxiety and becomes confused about their needs.
- We need for ourselves, and for our kids to be in touch with our hunger and fullness cues.
- Ellyn Satter, social worker and Dietitian/Nutritionist, is a great resource. She understands nutrition as well as
family dynamic and feeding from a social work perspective. She’s done
the most research in this area. Her first book – Child of Mine: Feeding
with Love and Good Sense covers pregnancy to the first year of life. She also has a book called The Secrets of Family Meals which talks about involving kids in food preparation and family meals.
- The division of responsibility is a great reference and place to start. Parents choose food, when and where the food is provided. The child decides how much and whether or not they eat. This is hard for parents to do but gives a good guide for where they should appropriately have control, and where they need to let go of the control.
- Parents tend to mess up by either doing both jobs (too much control) or not providing structure (therefore letting the kids eat whenever, grazing, etc).
- One of the most important things to know: People need a peaceful dinner and eating experience. A place where everyone sits together. Preferably not in the car. And not in a separate / fractured eating area. A place for families to connect at least once a day.
- Hard for parents is the fact that the child gets to decide whether to eat or not.
- A child is curious and they will be curious about what their parents, grandparents, etc. are eating
and drinking. Our ability, as adults, to trust ourselves is teaching them something. Our manner of eating is teaching them something. Children are paying attention! Our goal is to teach children how to enter a meal and snack time with enjoyment and pleasure and not a lot of angst.
- Sound bites about what’s in our food is creating so much anxiety for everyone.
- Labeling food as good and bad means that YOU are good or bad based on what you choose to eat. Especially kids who pay close attention to rules and pleasing their parents/grandparents tend to pay attention to food rules. The child then begins to make eating decisions an emotional decision. Remove the emotional labels from food. There are not good and bad foods.
- Parents who try to protect kids from overweight by controlling food find that kids often rebel or sneak foods and develop disordered eating patterns.
- A parents most basic job regarding their kids eating behaviors is to help kids be in sync with their own body. This is best taught through actions and showing them what it looks like.
After all this great information was shared, Debra opened up the floor for the audience to ask questions. Here’s what people wanted to know, along with Debra’s answers:
Question and Answer Session
Q: I have a 3 year old who is picky and will not eat any fruits and veggies. I’ve been trying to follow the Ellyn Satter method and I’m not sure it’s working. Should I try negotiating?
A: For the long term, negotiating probably isn’t best. However, I trust parents to know their child. Research says kids need to be exposed to foods lots of times (like 15 or more). ‘Exposed to’ means food is on the table and you see others enjoying it. Three is a little young to be too worried about it. Keep working at it and come back next week for the session on picky eaters!
Q: Do you think there’s a difference between girls and boys? My daughter explores more, my son stays away from fruit and veggies.
A: I’m not aware of any research. I wonder if they are seeing differences between mom and dad’s behavior. I trust the child to know what they need. This is probably a difference in personality rather than gender. When it comes to eating disorders and body image, there is a difference, although we are seeing a rise in eating disorders for boys.
Q: My 4 year old knows the difference between healthy food and junk and clearly prefers junk.
A: You need to dismantle his system of classifying food. Challenge him to think of food as food. Talk about what a food offers and how you feel after eating certain foods. Talk about what it can build in your body. Remove the labels of healthy and junk. Focus on the positives of foods, even the junk. Tone down the negative and talk up the positive.
Q: What do you say if your child wants cookies all the time?
A: Offer a variety of foods. Try not to regulate too much. If you provide a cookie at snack time, offer a protein at the same time (milk). It’s not your job to persuade! Try not to respond to their choices. Some other tips are to make sure that you are offering protein, carb, fat at each meal. Put a favorite next to a new food. They will get curious, and watch you try it. Again – try not to get too emotionally involved.
Q: What are some old traditions that we shouldn’t do?
A: Do not comfort and calm with food. Rewards could sometimes be food but take care to not always reward with food. Avoid a situation where “these foods are used for these experiences” (i.e. giving ice cream after every trip to the doctor, or always rewarding with candy for performing well in school).